Skip Navigation

Brockport / President's Office / Presidential Speeches and Public Statements / Convocation 2013

2013 Faculty/Staff Opening of School Convocation

Tuesday August 20, 2013
President John R. Halstead
The College at Brockport, State University of New York

"Back to Basics: Focusing on Student Learning—Our Core Mission"

Thanks, Sean. I look forward to working with you and your Brockport Student Government Cabinet, always with the best interests of our students in mind.

As a College, we shall continue to focus on our core mission of student success —and even, I have been assured, finally address the infamous puddles on campus!

Sean, you have already exemplified strong leadership and collaboration since taking office and from my early meetings with you and your fellow officers. I wish you and BSG a most successful year ahead.

And Gary and Dawn, I pledge to you both—as you have to me—a renewed commitment to collaboration and shared governance to benefit our entire College.

In the past, I've used this occasion to focus on a theme such as "Transitions" or "Hope and Optimism" or "Looking Back, Moving Forward: A Call to Action" or "Thinking and Acting Strategically"...or last year's theme of "Living Our Mission: Our Enduring Nature—Our Promising Future."

And last year—as "icing on the cake"—we all walked over to the new Liberal Arts Building to witness our groundbreaking. What a difference a year makes—if you looked at our web page feature recently—when some of us took a hard hat tour to view this magnificent facility.

I'm pleased to say that the Liberal Arts Building is on schedule and budget to open by next fall. All 61,000 square feet.

More importantly, it's a tangible commitment to our enduring mission dedicated to the liberal arts.

Yet, we have not forgotten the STEM fields as you will recall last year that we also dedicated our new and improved Smith Science Building—a state-of-the-art facility. And we'll dedicate some special rooms on September 26.

And what about our commitment to health, fitness and wellness? You do remember our September 14 grand opening of SERC coinciding with Homecoming. Guess how many users to date? Almost 200,000! Or approximately 1,000 users per day!

We'll continue that trend with our Eunice Kennedy Shriver Stadium and turf field renovations to benefit a number of sports and to remain competitive in terms of student recruitment and retention. And once more capital monies (these do not come out of operating funds or tuition dollars) are released by the State, we'll move ahead with other priorities such as Lathrop Hall for our Nursing Program.

But as I often say, it's NOT about bricks and mortar, but rather the development of students and ensuring that they—as well as our faculty and staff—have the best possible environment for teaching and learning.

In fact, that's what our Comprehensive Campaign is all about—announced at a gala and using social media across the country—on April 26—under the fitting theme of: Pursue Something Greater.

We're now at almost 17 million dollars as we crisscross the country visiting alumni and donors from Albany to NYC; Boston to DC; Atlanta to San Diego and LA.

And just think, many of these gifts and pledges—and I appreciate greatly all of you who have contributed—are already going to endowed scholarships, faculty development and student life enrichment.

Yes, admittedly, much has been given—and much has been promised—for this College with so much promise itself!

But what really matters is the quality of education for our students. What you see transpiring on our campus each and every day.

Yes, there will always be the need for another facility. Again, our efforts are not about bricks and mortar, but rather about delivering The Brockport Promise of a well-rounded education for our students.

Buildings and playing fields may be where this promise occurs, but it's people that embody the spirit of our College. That's all of you—all of us—our collective spirit to educate our students.

But back to that elusive theme for today: What is it? How about "Back to Basics: Focusing on Student Learning—Our Core Mission"...Sound ok to you?

What does this mean? To me, it simply means we MUST re-sharpen our focus on being a distinctive college of highly engaged students. And to do it better than anyone else.

All right, it's fine to have national aspirations and to talk about the College of 2025 (and those conversations will continue)—and to aspire to be something even greater. But let's never forget that we are all about STUDENT SUCCESS. That's our bedrock.

It's what makes us successful and distinctive as an institution.

But we need to dig deeper into that bedrock—returning to our roots (now there's a mixed metaphor of roots in the bedrock...).

We need to take cues from George Kuh's seminal work on student success that many of us have read across cross-divisional planning retreats. I've been in communication with George to have him visit our campus.

What are the conditions that are absolutely critical to ensuring student success? What are the properties of colleges that have proven to be educationally effective?

What are the high impact practices that we can deploy to assure student success?

Here are some ideas/preliminary thoughts, starting with the following premise.

As I often say: We can "out-personalize" other colleges and universities—big and small, public and private, as more and more we are competing with the private colleges, yet are committed to our public mission. More on that in my conclusion. But sorry...not yet.

We must do it by our actions; not just giving lip-service to student success. Let me enumerate several ways we can act. I call them imperatives for Brockport.

First, we must be more intentional about who we are as an institution and what we want our students to achieve and learn.

Second, we must create and sustain a culture of assessment as cited in an article by Ndoye and Parker that was the centerpiece of a recent Cabinet Retreat.

Third, we need to consistently measure student success. Thus, the ABSOLUTE importance of addressing the Middle States Monitoring Report requirements.

Fourth, we need to adopt an annual planning and assessment cycle and a system of institutional assessment, across all divisions of the College.

Fifth, we will need to use assessment to make responsible resource allocation decisions and adopt a more disciplined approach to institutional sustainability. What we call "an imperative for change". Look for new guidelines and principles for an all-funds approach to financial management. The right question is: How are we going to thrive?

And sixth, we are half-way through our latest Strategic Plan for 2011-2016 and we ought to continually ask: How we are doing? At the same time, we can look to the future, continuing to engage you in our 2025 conversations that have been summarized on the web for all to see. What will teaching and learning look like at The College at Brockport in the year 2025?

So, in a nutshell:

• We have to be true to our mission of student success. That's our DNA, folks!

• We need to retain our core value of student learning being pre-eminent.

• We should never, ever abandon what we do best: we're pretty darn good at teaching and advising—engaging students—but we can do even better.

• We need to assess how we are doing—not only in the arena of student learning, but also the overall

climate of the College. Thus, we will implement the Climate Survey this year. Yes, we were recently cited—

in a positive way—by the State University of New York's Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion—being

selected as one of a handful of SUNY colleges to be funded for the 5th Annual Explorations in Diversity

and Academic Excellence for our Academic Engagement Initiative. But Campus Climate—as underscored by our national consultant—is so much more.

And let's not forget that we are not immune from outside forces in higher ed.

Let's not fall into the pitfall of remembering a time that never was--of never wanting to change as recently cautioned in a 2013 Presidential Perspectives piece written by Doug Whitlock, the President of Eastern Kentucky University subtitled: "Reflections on How We Got to Where We Are."

Let us also be cognizant of unexpected, intriguing opportunities that await us—such as Governor Cuomo's Start-Up NY in which we can attract new businesses on and adjacent to our campus to spur economic growth in our State and to offer internship and career opportunities for our students...but always, always, in keeping with our academic mission and aligned with our academic programs.

And be cognizant of the Public Policy Agenda recently published annually by both AASCU and ACE. As ACE VP Cathy Sandeen stated in a recent feature article in The Presidency, we should never forget that the four A's of higher education: access, affordability, accountability, and attainment—have become ubiquitous ... almost the mantra of higher education.

While a May Gallup survey reported that the majority of college presidents—myself included—have a sense of excitement and optimism about their institutions, there remains some skepticism nationally about the promise of MOOCs and their potential impact. Witness the move of San Jose State, as reported in last week's Chronicle of Higher Education, to call a hiatus on their jump into the world of MOOCs.

And then there is the healthy skepticism in a new book by a long-known colleague, Richard Keeling, and

co-author Richard Hersch, with the provocative title: We're Losing Our Minds: Rethinking Higher Education (2012) and their companion piece in AGB's Trusteeship (July/August 2012).

I like this title even better: Where's the Learning in Higher Learning? Better yet, it connects back to my central theme today!

Citing data from the National Survey for Student Engagement (NSSE) and other research, the authors challenge college presidents and faculty—through the practice of shared governance—to address the following questions...and I quote:

• What are our expectations for the outcomes of undergraduate higher education? What knowledge, skills, commitments, and values do we expect our graduates to have?

• Does the overall undergraduate experience effectively support students in meeting those expectations?

• What evidence do we have that our students have met our expectations and standards?

• Is there a gap between our expectations and students' achievement and what change is needed to improve outcomes?

Ultimately, Keeling and Hersh conclude—as I do—that a rigorous, comprehensive regimen of assessment of student learning must be established, documented, and sustained throughout the institution.

I quote once again: "Professors and professional staff members should routinely assess both the quality and quantity of student learning in every kind of learning experience, inside and outside the classroom, in both formative and summative ways...not just grades, but a variety of other artifacts of learning demonstrated in ways appropriate to the discipline or subject...but such data are only useful if they help the institution continuously improve."

It's probably time to end this Convocation now and we have no new buildings to break ground for...Fall '14 we'll schedule the grand opening of the Liberal Arts Building.

Only one last quote—closer to home from one of our Emeriti who happened to be our Graduate Commencement Speaker last May 18th, Lynn Parsons.

In a recent Commentary entitled "Crisis in America," which Lynn sent me he says (in part):

"We must defend the notion that providing higher education for all who qualify is a public good, not a public burden...Most important, we must recognize that a more educated population yields greater innovation, a more robust economy, higher income and thus a higher tax base, which in turn will make public higher ed possible for the next generation."

Let me add—and this is my final thought –at The College at Brockport we might as well do it in the best way possible, true to our DNA of student success and return to our roots advancing student learning.

What WE do will then be a true reflection of who we are—our distinctive nature. Let's do it together. Here's to a great year ahead. Thank you.


Last Updated 8/21/13